50% of leaders fail – what’s going wrong?

Jul 14th

A frightening statistic is that more than 50% of mergers fail. Perhaps a more frightening statistic, less widely discussed, is that 50% of leaders fail. Of course, it’s harder to measure leadership failure or success unless it’s tied directly to company performance, such as long term growth in shareholder value with Jack Welch and GE. Or to obvious failure, such as Jeff Skilling and Enron.

But from our perspective we personally observe that only about half the leaders we meet succeed. Given that the single most important job of a Board is to appoint the CEO, what’s going wrong? Is it the advisers, the headhunters, the appointments panels? Or is it some failure on the part of Boards and their appointment task?

Some see the fault in the behaviours encouraged to climb the corporate ladder. Ruthlessness, strong personal ambition, a lack of empathy. Robert Hogan talks about ‘de-railers’, the personal behaviour patterns that pose a risk to leadership success. Hogan’s prescription for appointing leaders is typically specific: ‘Just don’t appoint the narcissists or psychopaths’.

Some organisations have become wise to this. They invest in developing talent, making behaviours as important as results in performance appraisal, nurturing and promoting people with the right values and behaviours.

Surfacing unexamined habits and patterns of behaviour, whether as individual leaders or as leadership teams, raises awareness – that’s the first step to being able to do something about it. That’s where coaching, whether one to one or in teams, gives leaders control over their impact, delivers measurable improvement and makes leadership success much more likely.

This article is filed under: coaching, leadership

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